Optimize your forklift fleets

iWarehouse boosts productivity

February 15, 2013   by Matt Powell, Assistant Editor

Capturing shop-floor data plays a critical role in identifying inefficiencies throughout enterprises, which leads the way to productivity improvements and a healthier bottom line.

Raymond Corp.’s iWarehouse fleet management system does the same thing for material handling. It collects and analyzes real-time data from the operation of forklift trucks used in warehouse and manufacturing operations.

Joe LaFergola, Raymond’s manager of business and information solutions for the manufacturer of forklifts based in Greene, NY, says the iWarehouse system streamlines traditional activities previously performed through analogue methods.

“There was a lot of discontinuity in the types of data that was being collected – data on specific trucks didn’t match data in the vehicle management system [VMS], which caused major issues and irregularities, such as a number of potential failure points.”

The system, accessible via a third-party web portal, generates reports and benchmarks the productivity of lift trucks and operators.

iPort connects to forklifts through a single connector, replacing “octopus” designs that require up to 12 wires to make a connection. A single connection reduces the number of switches, contactors and external sensors required to collect shop floor data, reducing the number of potential failure points.

Measurable benefits

“The data is sent digitally between the vehicle management system and the lift truck to ensure that data is always synchronized,” he says.

Since launching in 2009, the system has shown measurable benefits in time savings, lower maintenance and operating costs, incident prevention and fleet rightsizing. For example, so far, iWarehouse has achieved maintenance cost savings of up to 10% and it saves up to 15 minutes per truck by permitting operators to electronically complete and store pre-shift vehicle checklists. Analogue pre-shift checklists took up to 17 minutes.

LaFergola says an “annoying” set of static questions also encouraged operators to pencil-whip the checklist, which can lead to maintenance and safety issues.

“iWarehouse randomizes those questions digitally so they’re answered properly,” he says. “We’ve also cut filing times and the paper trail.”

And those reports are available in real-time should safety inspectors show up unexpectedly.

The company markets the system as an “electronic brain” that constantly monitors multiple functions and issues alert codes designed to simplify diagnostics and repairs. It collects data sent at one-second intervals for monitoring. Managers with remote access set enterprise-wide benchmarks to enhance a fleet’s productivity. The system consists of the following modules:

• iAlert sends alert code notifications via e-mail to service technicians to identify maintenance actions and provide early indications for impending maintenance issues.

• iControl configures operator profiles based on skill level to limit acceleration and truck speed when the operator signs into use specific vehicles.

• iImpact sends notifications to managers if a lift truck is involved in an impact.

• iVerify requires operators the review OHSA-mandated operator checklists before the lift truck will start.

• iMetrics tracks usage data for facility managers to determine if the truck is best suited for specific applications.

• iTrack produces reports on fleet data by truck, facility, region and company to give national managers access to shop floor data across a company’s entire supply chain.

• iBattery monitors battery condition and extends battery life.

The system also keeps people from driving around aimlessly by identifying whether a truck is travelling with or without a load thanks to a hydraulic sensor that monitors pressure on the forks.

“Managers are able to identify those employees who are the most efficient and who is on a specific vehicle, which makes operators increasingly accountable for their actions,” says LaFergola.

Promising results

So far, testing has proved the system boosts productivity by up to 5% and one Wisconsin-based company has cut lift truck impacts by 80%.

Raymond developed iWarehouse with two third-party VMS producers. Total Trax Inc. provides real-time vehicle, driver and inventory tracking technologies, and Shock Watch, a producer of indicators and condition-based monitoring devices, contributed monitoring technologies necessary to identify forklift-related data. Raymond developed software that accommodates new fields into a single package.

“Testing was done in-house in Greene, where we manufacture our lift trucks, so all new lift trucks are being outfitted with the iWarehouse system,” says LaFergola. “We’ve built a truck simulator in our lab to simulate data collection.”

LaFergola believes collecting data is about maximizing under-used floor space. “Companies need to ask themselves if they can get greater productivity out of the same footprint.”

Opening a real-time window on forklift operations will make better use of that footprint.

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